The family meal
I know times have changed and we can’t go back to the 1950s
(some of you are saying, “thank goodness!”) but we can reinstate one holdover
from days gone by — the family meal. Though The Brady Bunch and other
similar shows from bygone eras may seem a little sappy in the new millennium,
one thing they did right was to eat meals together as a family. Kids need this
habit-forming activity from an early age if they want to learn to eat at the
proper time — when everyone else is eating, during mealtimes. It’s time
to revive family dinners and put an end to what feels like a revolving family
restaurant in which people come and go all times of the day and eat whatever
Even when both parents work and kids play sports, it is
possible to have a family meal if you make it a priority. Most of my families
from clinical practice who had a child with an eating disorder did not eat
meals together. Certainly food for thought, isn’t it?
Research tells us that implementing regular family meals is
tied to a decrease in teen risk of psychosocial problems, drug us, risky sexual
behavior, and suicidal intention. Hey, that’s enough incentive for me! And, not
surprisingly, children who eat with their parents tend to eat healthier diets.
[Doherty, W., “Overscheduled Kids, Underconnected Families: the research
evidence,” (2000). http://puttingfamiliesfirst.info/html/research.html].
The dinner table is NOT the place for arguments, stressful
discussions, or criticism of your child’s grades, life, or clothing choices.
Make mealtimes a stress-free zone. If you need further evidence to drive this
point home, here it is: people who suffer eating disorders associate eating
with stressful family meals and people. When and if they did eat family meals,
mealtimes were tense and stressful because of the lack of emotional connection
and unresolved family stress.
Revive the family meal and make it a priority for all
involved. Look at your family’s schedule and adjust the mealtime accordingly
for each day, sometimes eating earlier or later in order to accommodate the
various activities scheduled. You may even want to rethink the family schedule
if you feel you are overscheduled. If you don’t have even one day to eat at
least one meal together, your family is too busy!
Meals should be associated with a relaxed, pleasant time.
Good food is a pleasure, and so is good company. Work at making conversation
lively and interesting. Ask about your child’s day. Tell a funny story. Engage
on an emotional level with your child so he won’t have to engage on an
emotional level with the food being served. Mealtimes are a great time to
interact with one another and to enjoy a few minutes of peace and relaxation.
From Overweight Kids by Dr. Linda Mintle (Nashville: Thomas
Nelson, 2005). Excerpted with permission.